A silver sports utility vehicle hauling a trailer of construction supplies pulled into the Ringling Shopping Center the morning of April 2.
The truck wasn’t towing materials to revitalize the property, but was, instead, carrying curled bundles of aluminum fencing that — after installation — will effectively block pedestrian access connecting the Ringling Gardens neighborhood to Payne Park.
In November, a group of residents from Alta Vista filed an appeal against the Sarasota Planning Board’s Nov. 14 approval of the Walmart site plan, citing the parcel’s zoning as incompatible with a supercenter, which would be considered a department store.
Due, in part, to those residents’ efforts, last month Sarasota city commissioners denied the construction of a proposed Walmart Supercenter at the commercial property. But, along with the Walmart proposal, the property owner had offered to purchase a nearby parcel of land to keep access open to nearby neighborhoods. But, with the defunct Walmart project and lack of offers from other grocery chains, the fence will remain and will block pedestrians from using the property as a shortcut to the park.
In an email to the property manager for the Ringling Shopping Center and city officials, Kelly Kirschner, former Sarasota mayor and Alta Vista resident, expressed concern about the “unsightly wall” that was erected on the property.
“This pedestrian access has been in existence for close to six decades, connecting the neighborhood to Payne Park and downtown,” Kirschner wrote in the email. “There are hundreds of homeowners and families who not only walk though the site every day, keeping their eyes on potential problems, but going to Payne Park to jog; walk their dog; take their children to the new playground, etc.”
In an interview with the Sarasota Observer, Kirschner said many of his neighbors are confused why the property owner would place a fence blocking access.
“We had a reasonable project (in Walmart), and we had vitality, and now we’re going to have a fence,” said Myron Nickel, a resident of Terrace Gardens, who spoke in favor of the Walmart proposal at City Commission meetings.
Nickel blamed members of the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association for fighting the Walmart proposal.
“There’s not a lot out there our neighborhood can do about the fence,” said Alta Vista Neighborhood Association President Candy Spaulding. Ringling Gardens and Terrace Gardens, neighborhoods that surround the property, are small and haven’t had active citizen groups, Spaulding said.
“It’s private property; they don’t have to abide by what their neighbors are thinking,” Nickel said about the shopping center.
On Wednesday, April 3, the day after contractor Florida Fence finished part of the fence, tenants discovered anti-Wal-Mart graffiti spray painted in neon orange on a white truck in the parking lot. On each side of the truck, vandals wrote a profanity directed at Wal-Mart.
The plaza’s property manager and leasing agent Oakmont Capital Resources could not be reached for comment for this story.
— City Editor Roger Drouin contributed to this story.